In the current environment, the most successful dealers had to become obsessed with consumers who still had purchasing clout. Interest rates for auto finance companies’ five-year new-car loans hit a 4.1% bottom during spring and summer, and banks and finance companies made credit more readily available toward the end of the year.
Recalls forced Toyota/Lexus dealers to rework how they conducted business. Winston R. Pittman Sr., president of the Toyota/Lexus Minority Dealer Association and CEO of Winston Pittman Enterprise (No. 6 on the BE auto dealers list with $199.6 million in revenues), says: “We had to rethink satisfying our customers. Service was the key. When they came in, we had to roll out the red carpet. We were open extra hours to guarantee our customer base was well taken care of and to ensure there was no more down time for them than necessary.”
To make meaningful consumer connections, auto dealers discovered that they could no longer operate exclusively as brick-and-mortar businesses or as online stores, says A. V. Fleming, executive director of Ford Motor Minority Dealers Association. While television and radio ads broadcast celebrity endorsements, Facebook and Twitter quickly spread word-of-mouth persuasion. “Social media has replaced the strong reference person and enabled dealers to reach customers beyond old boundaries,” says Fleming.
Steve Jackson found success by going green. Located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Toyota of Rockwall (No. 27 on the BE auto dealers list with $51.02 million in revenues) is the country’s first black-owned facility that is LEED-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. Since he opened shop in 2008, Jackson has been rewarded with huge savings in operating costs, national publicity, and streams of store traffic. His green cred has attracted customers from as far as Arkansas, Mississippi, and Oregon. Says Jackson of the dealership that realized a 25.1% boost in sales last year: “Each year, even through downturns and recalls, we’ve had month-over-month and year-over-year increases. Our business continues to grow.”
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